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Jeanette Winterson: Sexing the Cherry

As with her previous novel, The Passion, this novel is a fairy tale for adults set in the past. The past this time is the seventeenth century and the story is told by a woman known only as the Dog Woman (she has forgotten her real name) and Jordan, a boy she had rescued as a baby from the stinking Thames and has adopted as her son. These two are the narrators and, in case we do not know who is speaking, Dog Woman’s narration has a drawing of a peeled banana preceding it, while Jordan’s has a drawing of a pineapple. Just to confuse us, a pineapple split in half is Nicolas Jordan, writing in our present, and the banana with its top pulled off and hovering above the main banana is a contemporary environmentalist campaigning against mercury pollution.

Dog Woman is a large woman and very much concerned with social justice and dog breeding and racing. Her fanciful story is about Jordan but also about contemporary events including the Civil War, the execution of Charles I, Tradescant, the introduction of the banana and pineapple to England, the Plague and the Great Fire of London which she did not start but did nothing to stop. Jordan has greater flights of fancy, wanting to travel the world and escape his mother. He does this with out-of-body experiences and, in his imagination, travels everywhere. He falls in love with Fortunata, one of the Twelve Dancing Princesses who shot from their window every night and returned home every morning with torn dresses and worn-out slippers and remembered nothing and follows her to the end of the Earth. Some people who have never crossed the land they were born on have travelled all over the world, he tells us and he does just that. Of course, this enables Winterson to go off on flight of fancy and it is to her credit that she does it in such a way as not to seem ridiculous or ludicrous while still letting her imagination run wild. This is another beautifully written book, along the lines of The Passion and one that clearly takes the novel forward.

Publishing history

First published 1989 by Bloomsbury